Wayne Gretzky RC Valuation VS. G.O.A.T.s Tom Brady & Michael Jordan

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Q: How Wayne Gretzky RC Valuation Stacks Up Against the Other G.O.A.T.s Michael Jordan and Tom Brady Wayne Gretzky is the undisputed G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) that the National Hockey League has ever seen.

wayne gretzky vs tom brady vs michael jordan

A: His rookie card values simply don’t match those of the respective goats in basketball (Michael Jordan rookie cards) and football (Tom Brady rookie cards).


Why is that?

Well, obviously, hockey is the least popular sport among the big four (basketball, football, and baseball are the others) in America, but is there something more going on here than just that? Let’s take a look.

To help us dissect the situation, we enlisted the help of Beckett Media Grading Expert Eric Norton and Sal J. Barry, the Editor of PuckJunk.com and a writer for The Hockey News.

Puck Junk is a website about hockey cards, collectibles, and culture.

Wayne Gretzky Records and Accomplishments

It has been recorded that Gretzky holds or shares 61 NHL records, 40 of the regular season variety, 15 for the Stanley Cup playoffs, and six for the All-Star Game.

Liveaboutdotcom listed them all out, but here are some of the most pertinent below

Career

  • Points 2,856 (894 goals, 1,962 assists)
  • 100+ Point Seasons 15
  • Goals 894
  • Assists 1,962
  • Consecutive 100+ Goal Seasons 13 (1979-80 to 1991-92)
  • Three+ Goal Games 50 (37 three-goal games; nine four-goal games; four five-goal games)
  • 40+ Goal Seasons 12
  • 50+ Goal Seasons 9 (tied with Mike Bossy)
  • 60+ Goal Seasons 5 (tied with Mike Bossy)

Single Season

  • Goals 92 (1981-82, 80-game schedule)
  • Goals in a Single Season, Including Playoffs 100 (1983-84, 87 goals in 74 regular-season games, and 13 goals in 19 playoff games)
  • Points 215 (1985-86, 80-game schedule)
  • Assists 163 (1985-86, 80-game schedule)
  • Most Assists in a Single Season, Including Playoffs 174 (1985-86, 163 assists in 80 regular-season games and 11 assists in 10 playoff games)

Single Game

  • Goals in a Single Period 4 (tied with 10 other players); Feb. 18, 1981
  • Assists in a Single Game 7 (tied with Billy Taylor); Feb. 15, 1980; Dec. 11, 1985; and Feb. 14, 1986

Postseason

  • Playoff Goals 122
  • Playoff Assists 260
  • Most Playoff Points 382 (122 goals and 260 assists)
  • Most Game-Winning Goals in Playoffs 24
  • Most Three -or-More Goal Games in Playoffs 10 (eight three-goal games, two four-goal games)
  • Most Points in a Single Playoff Year 47 (1985, 17 goals and 30 assists in 18 games)
  • Most Assists in a Single Playoff Year 31 (1988, 19 games)
  • Most Points in Final Series 13  (1988, four games plus suspended game vs. Boston)
  • Most Assists in Final Series 10 (1988, four games, plus suspended game vs. Boston)

NHL All-Star Game

  • ASG Goals 13 (in 18 games played)
  • ASG Goals in One Game 4 (1983 Campbell Conference, third period)
  • ASG Points in One Period 4 (1983 Campbell Conference, third period; (tied with Mike Gartner and Adam Oates)
  • ASG Career Points, Career. 25 (13 goals, 12 assists in 18 games)

You can easily make the case that he achieved the most elite and decorated individual career in the entire history of sports. Or at least in regards to an individual player in a team sport. Before the term G.O.A.T. ever came along, Gretzky was simply referred to as The Great One.

Wayne Gretzky Sportscard Hobby History

While Gretzky isn’t considered a major sports card collector by any means, he still holds a major place in collecting history. In fact, whenever you bring up Gretzky and sports cards, what comes to mind first was his ownership of the 1909 T206 Honus Wagner card.

In 1991, Gretzky, in partnership with the then owner of his club at the time, Bruce McNall, won a spirited auction at Sotheby’s auction house in New York City. Bidding rose extremely swiftly, from an opening price of $114,000 to $228,000, then $300,000, and then the hammer price of $410,000.  The full tab, when Sotheby’s fees were included, was a staggering $451,000. This shattered the record for a trading card sale, by leaps and bounds, and in doing so created a tremendous amount of publicity for the hobby. It was a watershed moment that forever raised the profile of sports card collecting.

Three years later Gretzky bought out McNall’s share, and then sold the Honus Wagner card to Wal-Mart, for $500,000 to Wal-Mart. He made an 11% profit on his investment, but the decision to financially distance himself from McNall was a very intelligent one. In December 1993, McNall pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy and fraud and admitted to bilking six banks out of $236 million over a ten-year period. He was sentenced to 70 months in prison but ended up serving 57 due to good behavior. He also sent the L.A. Kings into financial ruin, which hindered the team’s performances for years to come.

Wayne Gretzky Holy Grail Rookie Cards

’79-80 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky RC #18 and ’79-80 Topps Wayne Gretzky RC #18

What are the Holy Grail Gretzky cards? There are only two, and in actuality, truly just one, but it comes in two variations.

“Obviously it’s the ‘79-80 OPC first, then the Topps rookie follows,” Norton said.

“Everything after that is a great addition to a Gretzky collection. With that in mind, while not expensive by any means, the 88-89 OPC #120 is the first card to feature Wayne in a King’s uniform. It’s not a “grail” but a fun one for fans. Also, Gretzky has very few autographs in a Blues or Rangers sweater. Those are always fun as well.”

O-Pee-Chee Company, Ltd. was a Canadian confectionery founded in 1911 that produced candy until the mid-1990s. Based in London, Ontario, they produced they first trading card sets in the 1930s, covering baseball, football (American variety, not soccer) and hockey cards until the company was sold to Nestlé in 1996.

The O-Pee-Chee brand came back, via Topps, in 1997, as they licensed hockey cards under that name until 2004. Three years later, the Upper Deck company took over the licensing and they have been releasing card sets under the O-Pee-Chee brand, up to the present.

The OPC Gretzky rookie will cost you well over a grand, even in fair to okay condition. (Think PSA or BGC 3-6ish range). A top-level, near-mint, high-graded version of this card will command $2-$4,000 on the open market. You can get the Topps version for less, but expect to be spending at least four figures for a nice grade one.

As Norton points out, finding this card in a top-tier grade can be very difficult, and thus, there is a ton of variability in pricing.

“Both the ’79-80 OPC and Topps cards are extremely conditioned sensitive and they were cut with a wire,” he said.

“That means there are plenty of centering and edge issues to be found. This card almost has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. The pricing that you see reported in Beckett can be considered a general guideline. Any given raw example may be more or less depending on how it presents. Grading is key with this card.”

The market for the Gretzky RCs is always in flux, and there is a valuation ceiling to it, as it comes from an era in which cards were not produced as well as they are today.

Tom Brady Records and Accomplishments

Tom Terrific really does embody the name of the television series his people produced: “The Man in the Arena.” It is not a docuseries, as a “documentary” is a term that can only be labeled on a project that’s created with objectivity for the subject.

That said, Tom Brady does not need any kind of media to embellish all that he’s done in his sport.  Brady is a 14-time NFL Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro, two-time second-team All-Pro and three-time NFL MVP. And he’s still not done. He just won a Super Bowl last season, in a game that drew 92.5 million viewers, and he has the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a great position to do it again this postseason.

The Bucs begin the playoffs this weekend as the #2 seed in the NFC. Brady is also the all-time leader in touchdown passes, Superbowl Titles/Appearances, quarterback playoff wins, quarterback postseason wins, quarterback postseason wins, and Super Bowl MVP awards. He’s also the only QB to win the Super Bowl MVP award in three different decades and to achieve the honor with two different teams.

Said former NFL linebacker and current CBS Sports football pundit London Fletcher:

“I played against Tom. He is a tremendous competitor. He’s actually the most competitive opponent I’ve ever gone against. So, whether it’s game one of the regular season or the Super Bowl, his mentality is the same. He wants to win every single game. That’s just his mentality. That’s the way he’s always gone about his business.”

Brady’s NFL career numbers read as follows. At the end of the 2021 NFL season, and beginning of the postseason, he played in 318 games, has thrown 624 touchdown passes, 203 interceptions and 84,520 passing yards. He’s completed 7,263 passes in 11,317 attempts, good for 64.18% and 7.5 yards per attempt. It all adds up to a 97.6 passer rating.

Tom Brady Clutch Gene

As Brad Daughtery once told me during an interview, “the NFL slaughters everything” when it comes to attracting eyeballs in American sports. And Tom Brady is the most high-profile player in the most-watched American sport.

CBS just claimed today that they averaged 18.034 million viewers this regular season, and that the number marked the Network’s most-watched regular season in six years. They also claim a +9% increase over last year’s figure (16.539 million viewers).

According to their communications staff, they averaged 21.588 million viewers for the 10 national Sunday game windows, and they say that’s more than any primetime television sports, entertainment or news series, on any television network this season.

Julian Edelman is a former teammate of Brady’s and he currently works for CBS/Paramount+ as a pundit.

“Anytime you have Tom Brady, you have a shot,” says Edelman.

“Anytime there’s a ‘gate’ or there’s some kind of controversy around him, this guy has the ability to compartmentalize anything because all he cares about is winning.”  

Brady has, if we may quote Calvin Harris “come through in the clutch more than lipstick and phones.” He has the clutch gene, and it makes for great television. He plays the most scrutinized, highest profile position in all of sports, and he’s done so better than anyone else in history.

Ray Lewis, who is now a teammate of Edelman’s on the same network, discussed Brady’s responding to controversies throughout his career:

“‘Oh, I’m down. This guy is out. That guy is out. It’s impossible. Can we do it? Everybody in this division, they’re watching us fall. We won it last year. We have the target on our backs. And guess what, we got them just where we want them.’ Because this is when Tom Brady turns into Tom Brady. This is when the composure of a champion sits down.”  

This is a big part of what drives the valuation of Brady RCs so sky high. He’s always in the arena, front and center. Nothing moves the needle like controversy, and Brady responds each and every time he gets caught up in one.

Tom Brady Holy Grail Rookie Cards

2000 SP Authentic Tom Brady RC #118

Our number one pick in terms of Return on Investment over the next 20 years. One of these cards sold for $180,000 by Goldin last March. The 2000 SP Authentic Brady RC is one of the brand’s top cards, if not the best of all-time. With a superior combination of price, scarcity and brand recognition, this is where you want to be in regards to Tom Brady RCs.

Only 1,250 were ever issued, with the numbers that begin with 12 commanding a higher premium in the marketplace, simply because Brady wears #12 as his jersey number. There are 98 PSA 10s out there, currently valued at the PSA value of around $45,000. The most recent sale was $34,801.20, with an average price of $115,089.

2000 Tom Brady Bowman Chrome RC #236

This is one of just two Tom Brady Rookie Cards released by any brand that’s owned by Topps. Given that Topps is The Godfather of the overall hobby itself, this card holds a very special place in the hearts and minds of collectors.

While the aforementioned card is the Holy Grail of Brady RCs, this one is right up there, just a notch below.   Of the 1098 PSA 10s, the average value is currently just north of $20,000. The PSA price is $15,000 with the most recent price coming in at just under $19,000. The population of this card is currently 1,101.

The refractors version of this card is very eye-catching, and one can see why it’s so popular. Just yesterday a PSA 5 went for $930 on eBay and a PSA 9 for three grand. Two days ago, a PSA 10 went for one dollar less than 14K.

Michael Jordan Records and Accomplishments

Jordan’s individual accolades include six NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Awards, ten scoring titles (both all-time records), five MVP Awards, ten All-NBA First Team designations, nine All-Defensive First Team honors (joint record), fourteen NBA All-Star Game selections, three All-Star Game MVP Awards, three steals titles, and the 1988 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Not only he is widely considered the greatest basketball player of all time, but the debates about who could actually be on his level, a potential rival for the G.O.A.T. status, are actually pretty laughable. In addition, no one, with the exception of Phil Knight, has had a great impact on the world of sports wear and athletic shoes.

Jordan holds the NBA records for career regular season scoring average (30.12 points per game) and career playoff scoring average (33.45 points per game). In 1999, he was named the 20th century’s greatest North American athlete by ESPN, and he placed second only to Babe Ruth in the AP list of athletes of the century.

Jordan was twice inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, once for his individual career as part of the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team (“The Dream Team”). He became a member of the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2015. MJ is also known as Mr. June for his unparalleled success in the NBA Finals.

Michael Jordan Larger than Life, Bigger than Basketball

When Michael Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls in 1994 he played in a venue that already had a statue of him outside the gates. This is extremely rare in sports, and it evokes the words of Jay-Z, on Kanye West’s first album, a song entitled  “Never Let Me Down.”

Jy-Z took referring to oneself in the third person to new heights (or depths), rapping: “Hov’s a living legend and I’ll tell you why, Everybody wanna be Hov and Hov’s still alive.”

MJ is possibly among the most influential people of all time, on planet earth. Here in Chicago that statue is a major tourist attraction. In other words, His Airness as an individual is a leading tourist site in the nation’s third largest city.

If Michael Jordan’s basketball cards and, in particular, his rookie cards are not a part of your sports card investment portfolio, and you have the means, then please correct this situation immediately. The PSA 10 graded Michael Jordan Fleer rookie card had a mind-blowing 46,000% ROI in 11 months between March of 2019 to January 2021.

Examples like these are what made us look into sports cards as a legitimate form of investing. Please note, in fairness, the 2/11/2021 sale was more or less just off the peak of “Jordan Mania” with the “Last Dance” ESPN film series having taken off just months before.

Also, as is the case with Tom Brady and “The Man in the Arena,” this series was NOT a documentary, as Jordan’s people had direct editorial control over The Last Dance. Nevertheless, this series was extremely popular, and it drove prices for Jordan cards to the stratosphere.

Michael Jordan Holy Grail Rookie Cards

1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan #57

Without a doubt, the 86-87 Jordan Fleer RC is the most iconic basketball card in history, and it’s just as relevant today as it was in 1998 when MJ played his final game as a member of the Chicago Bulls.

PSA Authentication and Grading Services, the industry’s leading card grading organization, has called the 1986 Jordan Rookie Card “the most recognizable basketball card and the most important modern card from any sport in the entire hobby.”

Most collectors and even card experts are unaware that Jordan already played two full NBA seasons before the iconic 1986 Fleer card was released.

First, it’s tough to find a truly mint condition, top-tier, flawless card. The borders are notorious for being particularly susceptible to wear and tear, as well as chipping.

It’s one thing to find a 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan, but it’s quite another to find one with four very sharp and distinct corners. This card was also known for having significant issues with centering.

Earlier this year (2021), two of them, both graded at the highest level possible, PSA 10, sold at auction for $738,000 apiece. Not bad for a card you might have been able to randomly pull from a pack for 50 cents back in the day.

1984 Star Company Michael Jordan Rookie Card #101

Some consider the 1984 Star Company Michael Jordan XRC #101 to be Jordan’s true RC as it’s his earliest basketball card. Distributed only at the home NBA arenas, the Star basketball card brand never took hold.

Still, this card will cost you a few grand if it’s in top condition and five figures if you can find a PSA 10.

This one comes in an all-red background, matching the photo, which conveys Jordan again in the red Bulls away shirt. There is also a Rookie of the Year (#288) and Team USA 1984 Summer Olympics (#195) variant.

Star was never mainstream like Fleer, so some consider it a lesser rookie card or not an actual mainstream basketball card.

We never truly bought into this and always have a soft spot for these types of cards in all sports.

A Baseball G.O.A.T. Perhaps?

Does baseball have a modern day G.O.A.T. in the vein of Jordan, Gretzky and Brady? Mickey Mantle certainly fills that role for baseball in the hobby, and Ken Griffey Jr. is certainly on the Mt. Rushmore as well. But a G.O.A.T. is different, and Barry Bonds could have been that, had it not been for the steroids. Ditto for Alex Rodriguez.

Norton gave us a name. “Mike Trout does and will fill that role nicely,” he said.

“In fact, according to book value, Trout is there.” See the charts attached.

Barry provided another alternative name.

“Everyone loves Jeter,” he said.

“He played for the Yankees, was a unanimous vote to the Baseball Hall of Fame, great guy, superb athlete, very popular team.”

Card-wise though, Jeter is hindered, as his Bonds, by the same major factor.

“Maybe his rookie cards still fall into the junk wax era, but in 1993 cards were just not as grossly overproduced as card sets from 1989-1992. The Bonds RC was 1987 Topps, which was probably the most-printed set of the 1980s.”

Whether you believe it’s Trout or Jeter, or someone else entirely for this conversation, this much is clear- baseball doesn’t have anybody who is

Valuation Analysis and the Verdict

Will Gretzky’s cards could ever catch up to the valuation levels, relatively speaking, of the other respective G.O.A.T.s in their sports?

“Simply put, no,” said Norton.

“Hockey has a rabid collecting base, but for the most part, they all reside in Canada. It’s not a knock on Canada or hockey collectors, but it’s just never going to add up. Very nice examples of his OPC rookie will get close, but that is about it.

“With that being said, Gretzky holds a place in hockey collecting that will likely never be touched by other modern players. Connor McDavid may get there, but he is the only current player that we can say that about.”

Barry offered a longer and more detailed response.

“Hockey cards are way undervalued when compared to cards from other sports,” he said.

“Gretzky is considered the greatest hockey player to play the game, but there are probably over 100 baseball players who have cards more valuable than his rookie card. So, as a hockey fan, it’s a little frustrating that a baseball, football, or basketball player from a comparable era, who isn’t the top ten in his sport, can have cards that are more valuable than a Gretzky RC.

“Then again, as a hockey collector, I don’t mind that the prices of the cards I like to collect tend to be lower than they are in other sports.

“In the U.S., hockey is not as popular as baseball, football, or basketball. So, naturally, hockey cards like Gretzky’s rookie card, are not as valuable or as sought-after as his contemporaries in other sports.

We asked Norton if he feels Wayne Gretzky rookie cards are undervalued/overvalued/have proper valuation?

“I honestly think they are right where they should be, but there is a caveat to that,” he responded. When we brought up the disparity, and if it’s due to hockey being just that much lower in popularity than basketball and football, he answered: “Yes, that is exactly the issue.”

Barry offered a more thorough and detailed look at why that is. He explained where hockey went wrong, when it came to trying to attract a mass audience.

“I blame the NHL for that, especially with how it handled TV broadcasts in the U.S. during the 1980s,” he said.

“The NFL grew in the 1960s because of television exposure, as did the NBA in the 1980s. But from 1980 to 1990, no NHL games were broadcast on network television in the U.S. The NHL was buried on cable TV during the 1980s.

“If you look at the NBA in 1990, that league was really starting to take off. Games were easy to find on TV and Michael Jordan was rewriting the record books. At the same time, Gretzky was also rewriting record books, but hockey was more of an afterthought then a main event in many U.S. households.

“Hockey returning to network TV in the 1990s, first with ABC, then with FOX, helped raise its profile, but it was still far behind the NBA and NFL.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman certainly got some things wrong, from a TV perspective, and the league suffered when they wouldn’t go along with being on ESPN2, instead of regular ESPN. What they, and most people, don’t realize is that being on ESPN2 is still far superior to being on other channels, as that’s the second most watched sports station, behind only the flagship.

Barry brought another salient point about the sport, and with that, we let him have the last word on this long and deep dive into sports G.O.A.T.s

“Also, hockey is so much harder to play,” he added.

“All you need to play basketball is a hoop and a ball. For football, you need a ball and a field – or empty side street like we used as kids. To hockey, you need ice and equipment, which makes the barrier for playing much harder.

“I think it is easier for people to like a sport they can participate in at some level.”

He owns and operates the Sports Bank and co-hosts the "Let's Get Weird, Sports" podcast on the SB Nation/Vox Media network. He also appears regularly on WGN television, and on numerous sports talk radio programs across the country. He is a former regular contributor to Chicago Tribune.com, NBC Chicago.com, and the Washington Times.com. Paul M. Banks author of two books: "Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America" and "No, I Can't Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry."

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